Located at the west end of the Imperial Forum in Rome, the Temple of Saturn was originally erected in 497 BC and later rebuilt between 360 and 380 AD. It served as the public treasury and was the focus of the popular December festival of Saturnalia.
History of the Temple of Saturn
The agricultural god Saturn was associated with sowing and equated with the Greek god Cronos. According to classical mythology, he was expelled from Olympus by Zeus and ruled Latium in an age of peace and happiness, during which he taught people agriculture and other peaceful skills. He gave his name to Saturday and was honored with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrated originally on December 17.
Saturnalia was the most popular of all Roman festivals, thanks to its emphasis on merrymaking and freedom. Traditions included suspension of work, temporary freeing of slaves, role reversals and gift-giving. The feet of Saturn's cult statue in the temple were unbound from their usual wool wrap for the occasion. Saturnalia was later extended to seven full days, and its traditions live on today in western celebrations of Christmas and New Year.
The original Temple of Saturn was built in the Forum around 497 BC. From the beginning, it served as the treasury of the Roman state as well as a temple. The treasure may have been housed in the substructure beneath the temple steps, which can be seen today.
The temple was restored by Lucius Munatius Plancus in 42 BC, using funds from his recent victory in the Alps. It was one of the last great donations of a private individual before the empire took over such matters. Four centuries later, the Temple of Saturn was rebuilt again after a fire (as recorded in the inscription on the facade). The rebuilding has been dated to between 360 and 380 AD, demonstrating the Senate's continued resistance to the influx of Christianity in the Eternal City.
What to See at the Temple of Saturn
The Temple of Saturn stands at the west end of the Imperial Forum at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. It now consists primarily of eight columns of the pronaos, or porch, standing on travertine blocks. Some of the substructure below the temple stairs can be seen; this may have been where the treasury was housed.
The columns are all Egyptian granite: the front six in a grey color from Mons Claudianus, the two side ones in a pink granite from Aswan. Only three of them are true monoliths; the remainder were made of two pieces joined together. The Ionic capitals were carved of white Thasian marble for the 4th-century restoration.
The architrave with its frieze of acanthus leaves has been dated to about 30 BC; it was most likely salvaged from the restored temple begun in 42 BC. Four of the column bases also date from this period. Of the remaining four, two were made in the 4th century and the other two are spoils from two different buildings.
The inscription on the architrave, added for the restoration of 360-80 AD, reads:
SENATUS POPULUSQUE ROMANUS / INCENDIO CONSUMPTUM RESTITUIT
Destroyed by fire; restored by the Senate and people of Rome.
Quick Facts on the Temple of Saturn
|Names:||Temple of Saturn|
|Categories:||temples; World Heritage Sites|
|Dates:||c. 497 BCE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.892538° N, 12.484186° E|
|Hours:||See Roman Forum|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Temple of Saturn|
- Personal visits (July 16, 2006 and April 16, 2008).
- Amanda Claridge, Judith Toms, Tony Cubberley, Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford University Press, 1998), 80-81.
- Saturn (Roman god) - Encyclopedia Britannica
Map of the Temple of Saturn, Rome
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Temple of Saturn. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.